A number of years ago, the nation was riveted on a little Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. In this unlikely place, a 32-year-old man entered a one-room Amish Schoolhouse armed with a shotgun, a semiautomatic pistol and a rifle.
He was known to the neighbors as a local milkman and father of small children. Little did they know, however, that this man was so full of anger and self-hatred, that he would terrorize the children in the schoolhouse, shooting 10 little girls ages 6-13 — instantly killing four of them before killing himself. Another girl died the next day and five more were wounded.
A story within the story
The exemplary responses of the Amish community to the schoolhouse murders became a story within the story. Although they were unable to deal directly with the perpetrator of these horrific crimes, the compassion they showed to the man’s wife and family was an extraordinarily exceptional model of grace and forgiveness.
Did the Amish struggle with hurt and loss? Of course! They’re human. Yet, based on years of teaching, they refused to allow bitterness to control them. Much of the rest of the world watched in astonishment and incredulity. Anger and revenge seemed more natural, if not, appropriate.
The Amish, however, knew something that we should all learn.
When bitterness conquers the heart, (even if it feels justified), it fills a person with a deadly venom that can poison generations. And, once bitterness begins to poison the heart, it is difficult to find an anti-venom to stop it.
If forgiveness is the anti-venom, it’s not always easy to practice — especially when dealing with such horrific evil. Yet bitterness has a way of multiplying an original act of evil by spreading injury wherever the bitter person goes. Bitterness is rarely a static emotion but one that requires an ongoing collection of injuries to feed it. Bitter people are difficult to help because bitterness is a self-justifying emotional drug that demands a self-destructive level of addiction while supplying a false sense of revenge.
There are good reasons for the Scripture that says, “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many” (Hebrews 12:15).
The Amish conquer bitterness with kindness (as witnessed in their love for the perpetrator’s wife and family). They follow the pattern taught in the New Testament, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). Bitterness is so powerful that it must be conquered with its opposite – Kindness.
Instead of returning evil for evil, the Amish are taught (based on Jesus’ words) even to allow their offender to multiply the injury against them. This “turn the other cheek” mentality is completely foreign to most people. But one wonders what the world would be like if more people practiced it.
If the Middle East, for example, could capture a small amount of the Amish way of forgiveness and kindness, the whole world would benefit. What a contrast! The Amish are taught to love and forgive; the radical Islamic community is nurtured on hate and retaliation.
Most people admired but did not understand the Amish reaction to the schoolhouse massacre. The Amish way of forgiveness and mercy is based on a long history of following the teaching of Jesus who said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28).
I realize that the Amish (like other pacifists) misapply Jesus’ teaching when it comes to the role of government. Jesus never intended for his words to trump the God-ordained role of Government as a divine agent to punish evil (Romans 13).
If the perpetrator of the Schoolhouse killings had lived, capital punishment would have been as much the Christian thing to do for the government, as forgiveness was the Christian response among the Amish. As a Christian, I must support the government when it punishes evil doers.
Maintaining this balance is not easy but the peace and security of the world depends on it.
Millersville Bible Church